Art and Automotive Restoration

Daniel Strohl for Hemmings Classic Car

San Francisco art school becomes the latest to offer degree in automotive restoration.

While an art school in downtown San Francisco might not seem the likeliest of places to conduct an automotive restoration program, officials at the Academy of Art University believe it’s a natural extension of the university’s existing offerings and have put together what they describe as a more up-to-date curriculum than other such programs.

“We want to do the same thing that we did with clay modeling,” said Tom Matano, the executive director of the university’s industrial design school, which houses the automotive restoration program. “Many people said that was an outdated process, and so there were no young clay modelers being instructed in clay modeling. We started teaching it, and now three or four of our students are hired on at GM every year. Much like clay modeling, auto restoration is an old-world skill that’s seen as dying, but we want to keep it going.”

To do so, Matano and other university officials, including former university president Richard Stephens, worked over the last three years to devise a two-year associate’s degree program that encompasses everything from machining and woodworking to body, paint, and upholstery. Beyond the hard skills, the program also includes classes on automotive design history, vintage car documentation, and even photography and automotive journalism. Nearly two dozen classes in all make up the program.

“Our program will not only focus on technology, but it will also provide instruction for building unique skillsets, historical knowledge, and research skills required for replicating historically authentic classic cars,” AAU President Elisa Stephens wrote. “Most programs lack the historical restoration and preservation elements necessary to restore vintage vehicles.”

Matano, whose resume includes design work for General Motors, BMW and Mazda as well as the design of the original Miata, said he has leaned on the expertise of a select few in the field of automotive restoration to select instructors and flesh out the program, noting that it hasn’t been too hard to find qualified professionals in the San Francisco Bay area. “Ed Gilbertson from the Pebble Beach Concours has come in as guest lecturer, and we’ve found that a lot of concours judges want to teach—they want a place to dump their knowledge,” Matano said.


Nor has the university had to build most of the program from scratch. It already has facilities for woodworking and metalworking, and Matano said that some classes just needed some tweaking to fit into the automotive restoration program. In addition, the university’s car collection—which includes a Tucker 48, a Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow and a number of coachbuilt European and American cars—will play a role in instruction, Matano said.

Fourteen students have already enrolled in the program, which started in September, and Matano said he hopes to eventually expand that number and set up optional apprenticeships for students in the second year of the program.

For more information on the program, visit



Photo courtesy Antti Rahko.

Antti Rahko just needed something to keep him occupied in his retirement years. While most recent Floridian transplants take up golf or maybe golf with the occasional afternoon of golf, the Finnish transplant decided instead to build one of the world’s most well-known art cars, the Finnjet, which he’s now put up for sale.

Not like he had that goal in mind right away. Rather, following his retirement in 1984, he began amassing chrome pieces and other shiny bits—mirrors, lights, bumpers, more lights, more mirrors—from trips to junkyards. Not until 2000 or so did he actually build a rig on which to install all those parts and pieces: a combination of two Eighties Mercedes-Benz W123 station wagons and a 1962 Imperial front end placed atop a tri-axle chassis with a dually axle in the center of the car and a Chevrolet truck front axle mounted at the rear, steering opposite the front wheels. A Mercedes-Benz turbodiesel engine powers the 29-foot laden limousine.

Inside, Rahko fitted the Finnjet—which he named after a famous Finnish turbine-powered ferry—with a microwave, freezer, television, two air-conditioning units and a functional sauna, all fed by three batteries and three alternators. But it’s the exterior of the Finnjet that attracts the most attention, with parts from an estimated 40 different cars, 36 mirrors, 86 lamps, various turbine housings, wings, chrome bumpers, strakes, hubcaps, a space shuttle and a continental kit for good measure.

For his efforts, Rahko has won first place in the Houston Art Car Parade—perhaps the world’s largest art car event—three times, but he built it to drive rather than show, and he’s reported mileage in the mid-20s thanks to the turodiesel. He’s also been invited to show it overseas at the Essen Motor Show a couple years back.

While he did list the Finnjet for sale about five years ago for $950,000; he has since lowered the asking price to $100,000 in an ad for the car that appears in the July 2015 issue of Hemmings Motor News.

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Ron’s Car Care Facelift

CarCareBefore1Hope that you enjoy the visual improvements that we’ve made on the shop exterior.  It started with having it re-stuccoed last fall before cold weather set in. I was finally able to repaint the trim this past weekend due to the unusually mild temperatures here. The door banner idea is another creative project of Richard Birnie design. A group of us in Yuma have been in the process of trying to convince city council to renovate/revitalize/beautify the downtown Main St. business district, in conjunction with the water main replacement/ street paving core project that is supposed to take place this coming summer. One idea was to create visual interest by the utilization of art installations in blank windows, etc in the downtown area to make the area more unique and interesting. I mentioned to Rich that maybe some garage scenes painted on a couple of boarded up windows in the back building would be cool. Well let me tell you, he took that idea and ran with it! Without my knowledge, he came up with the idea of the garage door banners. Brilliant!! He had these fabricated and presented them to me for Christmas. What an awesome gift! Thank you!!!CarCareAfter5CarCareAfter1

mechanics as hackers- reblogged

Mechanics as Hackers

from Hemmings Motor News
December, 2012 – Daniel Strohl

There’s a joy in taking things apart.
Too much of our mechanical and electrical world operates out of sight and out of mind from our everyday lives. It churns along behind blank panels and under aesthetically neutral covers, ticking away, shuttling electrons, revealing little of what it does until the day things go awry, typically leaving us befuddled as to why.
Getting under those covers, whether before or after that kerblooie moment, may sometimes feel illicit–especially when the thing you’re trying to take apart is held together with security screws–but it helps empower us, the consumers, by allowing us to better understand how these things work and by allowing us to repair and modify them as necessary, rather than replace them whenever they fail.
To anybody who’s ever owned an old car, I’m just stating the obvious here. Cars have hoods for a reason. We’d never send a car to the junkyard just because the starter failed. And that makes us hackers.
Now, understand that the term “hacker” has been used incorrectly by popular culture and the media over the last couple of decades. It does not refer to criminals who break into computer systems with nefarious motives; rather, it refers to the inquisitive among us, the tinkerers and the mad scientists and the mechanics, those of us not content with simply accepting planned obsolescence or the off-the-shelf products forced on us by a consumption-oriented society.
More recently, the hacker subculture has found both a philosophical center and widespread acceptance as the Maker movement, embracing a diverse array of hobbies–electronics, crafts, woodworking, robotics, you name it–in an effort to get regular people working with their hands and minds to invent and create things. And there’s plenty that we automotive hobbyists can learn from the Maker movement.
First off, the Maker movement is a very egalitarian and (little-d) democratic one, so it not only celebrates the amateur (which is a good thing–see “Sound of Speed,” HMN November 2011), but it also embraces open-source thinking: sharing solutions to problems that would normally hinder beginners from getting involved.
One development that has grown out of this philosophy is the hackerspace, a physical place where Makers can gather to share ideas, to pool resources, to work on their personal projects using tools that belong to the hackerspace (who wouldn’t love access to a waterjet cutter or a CNC machine?), and, most importantly, to join a community of like-minded enthusiasts. A company called TechShop has actually built a number of these spaces already, any of which would be well suited to car guys working on custom projects, and military members and veterans are no doubt familiar with the on-base hobby shops they could use for repairing their cars. An enterprising gearhead would do well to establish a hackerspace for car guys, either for profit or simply for the communal aspect.
The Maker movement has also introduced a market for 3D printers, which once cost six figures and were used primarily by manufacturers for rapid prototyping. Now, with hobbyist models hitting the marketplace for as little as $1,000 to $1,500, some old-car enthusiasts are pointing out how well suited 3D printers (particularly when paired with 3D scanners) are for replicating obsolete parts necessary to get old cars back on the road again. For the past three years, Jay Leno has been experimenting with 3D printers and scanners for just that purpose, and we’re hearing of high-end restoration shops looking into the technology. It won’t replace, say, a forged piston, but the technology is surprisingly capable.
Of course, it takes some familiarity with CAD and mechanical processes to get the most out of 3D printing, and the Maker movement has done a good job promoting technological literacy, inspiring budding Makers to take up CAD, welding, computer programming, acid etching and a thousand other skills. It wouldn’t hurt us old-car guys to add to our repertoires as the Makers so nimbly do.
Most importantly, though, the Maker movement–perfectly encapsulated by the slogan “If you can’t open it, you don’t really own it”–shows us that it’s not at all illicit to reconnect with the devices and the automobiles that we live with, that it’s okay to open them up, take them apart, and get to understand them a little better.

This article originally appeared in the December, 2012 issue of Hemmings Motor News.


IMG_20130408_111425 IMG_20130408_111506“Irene” is another addition to the family this spring.   Purchased new in 1976 by a regular customer at the shop, this Chrysler Newport Custom Coupe has racked up only 39k miles since new and has had only the best of care, including being housed in a heated garage.  The owner was, let me say, a bit eccentric and quite fussy. She and her husband farmed, and never had any children, so everything they owned was gently used and cared for.  After her passing, all of her household goods and vehicles were put up for auction.  I had no intention of purchasing this, but Rich kept after me to go to the auction “just to see what it brings”.  Of course one thing leads to another, and I became the second owner.  Along with the car came the buyers order from the dealer in Sterling.  They ordered the car in January of 1976 and took delivery the following March.  An interesting sidebar to the story is that they traded in a 1960 Oldsmobile 98 hardtop with only 45k miles.  I remember that car well, as my grandmother lived across the street from them and I still have this picture in my memory of that car sitting in their driveway.  It was a copper color that was popular at that time.  Wish I would have been old and wise enough to not let that one get away!

I have serviced the Chrysler since it was new, and was always intrigued by the unusual color.  Officially, it’s called Saddle Tan, but I always referred to it as “pumpkin”.  Others thought it was “apricot”.  Whichever, it’s definitely unusual….   The padded vinyl roof is Chestnut in color, and the interior is Parchment.   It has all of the obligatory power options, tilt/telescope steering column and an 8 track tape player.  It is in showroom condition and rides and drives as it did when new.